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Rams

Column: Chargers and Rams picked a bad time to have sub-par seasons

Rams coach Sean McVay leaves the field after losing the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.
Rams coach Sean McVay leaves the field after losing the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

You might remember a time when Los Angeles had not one but two football teams with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. That glorious era was called January.

The Chargers finished the 2018 regular season 12-4, tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the best record in the AFC. They opened the playoffs with a road win against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, sacking the budding superstar six times, before falling to the New England Patriots in the next round. The Rams went 13-3, tied with the New Orleans Saints for the best record in the NFC. They too fell to New England.

The Chiefs, Ravens, Saints and Patriots all appear to be headed back to the postseason, but the two L.A. teams that went a combined 25-7 less than a year ago limp into Sunday’s games 10-12. Super Bowl aspirations have been replaced with the hope of finishing above .500, MVP chants have turned into “what’s wrong with…” whispers, and the multibillon-dollar SoFi Stadium might be home to not one but two losing football teams when it opens in July.

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Winning was supposed to make the city forget it didn’t want either of these teams.

Winning was supposed to make L.A. forget about the Oakland Raiders, forgive a league that had jerked it around for more than 70 years, ignore the beaches and all of the other things to do on a Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, winning did none of that. And now Dean Spanos and Stan Kroenke own teams that are not only struggling today but are besieged with questions about their tomorrows.

“I’m evaluating everything, and right now Philip Rivers is our starting quarterback,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said when asked about the possibility of benching his slumping, soon-to-be-38-year-old signal-caller who is in the final year of his contract. Football fans know whenever the phrase “right now” is used in reference to the playing status of an aging quarterback it’s never a vote of confidence. The conundrum is whether it’s better to open a new place with a fresh face or a familiar one. Since resentment is the only equity the Chargers have been able to build since moving from San Diego, the answer to that question might not matter.

The Rams, on the other hand, know exactly who their starting quarterback will be next season — whether they like it or not. Jared Goff hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass against a winning team in nearly two months and is 29th in the league in completion percentage. But the ink is still wet on his four-year extension so he’s not going anywhere. Link that with the inconsistent use of onetime MVP candidate Todd Gurley, a patchwork offensive line, a Sean McVay system people are calling predictable and a cupboard void of first-round picks, and suddenly the team no one had an answer for is filled with questions.

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It can take generations for the roots of a displaced franchise to take hold in a new home. Spanos and Kroenke bet that a fancy new multiplex and winning would speed up the process. In January, that theory had a chance. A season later, we see microwaves are for popcorn, not loyalty.

If area football fans weren’t about that 405 life when the Chargers and Rams were tied for the best record in their respective conferences, Spanos and Kroenke have to be concerned about opening a new stadium with a pair of teams without one MVP candidate between them to market or momentum to build on.

Think about this: Heading into December, neither team has a division win to hang its helmet on. And if by some miracle one of them is able to navigate the extremely narrow road into the playoffs that remains, if USC fires Clay Helton and hires, say, Urban Meyer, we all know where the buzz will be. If the Lakers continue to build on one of their best starts in franchise history, we know where the attention will be. If the Dodgers sign a big name in free agency, we know where the Rams and Chargers will be — at a new site, still out of mind.


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